This is the family plot where Susan B. Anthony rests in Mt. Hope Cemetery.
I’d blame Lottie for this obsession, if she wasn’t a total stranger. And dead.
You remember Lottie. She was the name on the headstone at Mt. Hope Cemetery, the lonely headstone in a field of weeds, no dates, no last name, just “My Lottie.”
Bandit and I had started walking at Mt. Hope, and I’d already been captivated by the stories on the graves, especially by the stones that listed several children who had died. I’d done a little digging at the library, but it wasn’t until I met Lottie that things took a serious turn.
“Met” being a relative term; like I said, she’s dead.
On the day I met Lottie, I’d been exploring among a section of the cemetery that plays host to some impressive obelisks and monuments, each appearing to outdo the other for prominence, much the way the souls who rested beneath may have done in life.
The monstrously huge monument of Michael Filon; see Bailey in the front to understand its enormity. Who is Michael Filon and why does he deserve such a huge monument?
In particular was one monument that stands almost as tall as a two story house with the name Filon boldly emblazoned on it. I had no clue who Michael Filon was, but apparently he was some hot stuff, at least in his time.
Around the corner from Mr. Filon is the family plot of Susan B. Anthony. Understated and reserved, it doesn’t begin to hint at the significance of the woman buried there. Other than the marker and two small American flags, you could walk right by the plot and not realize you’d just passed history. (*There’s more about Michael Filon this at the end of this blog post.)
And then there was Lottie.
There are a lot of famous people buried at Mt. Hope, people who made significant contributions to American culture, politics, society. There are also a lot of people who thought they made contributions and so honored themselves with grotesquely huge monuments.
But my heart is for the nobodies. And with no name or dates or other identifying marks on her headstone, Lottie was as nobody as nobody could be.
As you might remember from an earlier blog post about some of the headstones I’d been investigating , I learned that Lottie is Charlotte Harcourt, who died at the age of 15 on 29 Sept 1861 of neuralgia of the stomach.
I know nothing else about her, but I know that at least she is not forgotten.
This obession might have ended there had a librarian at the local history section of the Rochester Public Library not said something that has changed my life: “Why aren’t you researching your own family tree?”
I’m pretty sure I told her that there wasn’t anyone famous in my family, that we hadn’t made any significant contributions to the world, that while I’d done some research a few years earlier I really didn’t think it would be that interesting since we were just nobody.
I know, did you see the light bulb go off over my head, too?
Here I was, spending time and effort to ensure that the name of this total stranger, My Lottie, wasn’t lost forever. If I liked to champion nobodies, well, my family tree is full of them.
And so it began. I pulled out the old folders. The library edition of Ancestry.com became my new best friend. I started taking notes, bugging the librarian, and before long I was knee deep in names, dates, questions and a whole lot of fascinating stuff about regular people. No inventors or politicians (at least not until the 21st century; on the Italian side, I found a cousin of my mother’s who recently ran for mayor in her town) or world changers. Just people who were born, lived, married, worked, played and died.
Just like millions of other Americans.
The truth is that the people who make headlines are few and far between. I think we forget about that in our media-driven, celebrity-obsessed culture. We revere singers and actors and politicians and people who manage the once-in-a-million achievement while the garbage men and factory workers and construction flag men and secretaries and Walmart greeters and other working class Joes do the bulk of the labor, and keep the country and economy moving.
A bunch of nobodies. Just like me!
Good grief, that makes me feel good.
See, I turned 48 a few weeks ago, and have been wallowing in my “I’ve done nothing with my life” self pity, lamenting my lack of contributions to the world while my clock is slowly ticking down. But I’m beginnig to realize that I’m not “nobody.” I’m actually everybody.
(As I typed that, the Beatle’s song “Nowhere Man” came onto the radio. I am not kidding. )
So for much of the last few months – and by “much” I mean almost every waking minute – I’ve been meeting my ancestors and even connecting with living relatives.
I thought that as I researched I’d share some of the stories I’m finding. Aren’t you excited? Continue reading